Sensor Tower Secretly Collecting Data From VPN and Ad-Blocking Apps on iOS and Android

Sensor Tower, an analytics platform that aggregates data on app downloads and usage for developers, has been secretly collecting data from millions of Android and iOS users who have installed popular VPN and ad-blocking apps, reports Buzzfeed News.

sensortowerlunavpn

Luna VPN, one of the VPN apps owned by Sensor Tower that asked users to install an enterprise certificate

These apps, which are owned by Sensor Tower, do not disclose that their user data powers Sensor Tower's analytics platforms. iOS and Android users have downloaded the apps more than 35 million times.

Some of Sensor Tower's 20 or more apps on iOS and Android include Adblock Focus and Luna VPN, with the former having been removed by Apple after Buzzfeed News alerted Apple's App Store team about the existence of the app. Free and Unlimited VPN and Mobile Data were also on the Google Play Store, but Google has since removed Mobile Data.

When installed, Sensor Tower's apps are designed to prompt users to install a root certificate, which lets Sensor Tower monitor all traffic and data passing through the phone. Sensor Tower bypasses Apple and Google's restrictions on root certificate privileges by requiring users to install the certificate through an external website.

Sensor Tower told Buzzfeed News that it collects anonymized usage and analytics data to determine the popularity, usage trends, and revenue of apps. Ownership of the apps was not disclosed due to "competitive reasons," according to Randy Nelson, head of mobile insights at Sensor Tower.

"When you consider the relationship between these types of apps and an analytics company, it makes a lot of sense -- especially considering our history as a startup," he said, adding that the company originally started with the goal of building an ad blocker. (He was unable to provide media coverage or other evidence of this early focus.)

He went on to explain that many of the apps are now defunct or are "in the process of sunsetting," which Buzzfeed points out is because they were removed from Apple and Google's App Stores due to policy violations.

An Apple spokesperson confirmed that a dozen Sensor Tower apps had previously been removed from the iOS ‌App Store‌ due to violations. Both Google and Apple are continuing to investigate Sensor Tower's apps, and more information on Sensor Tower's data collection practices can be found over at Buzzfeed News.

iOS users should be wary of installing VPN and ad-blocking apps from unknown developers, and should avoid apps that ask for certificates to be installed.

Popular Stories

iPhone 16 Pro Max Generic Feature 2

5 Biggest Changes Rumored for iPhone 16 Pro Max

Tuesday May 21, 2024 7:29 am PDT by
Given Apple's rumored plan to add an all-new high-end tier to its iPhone 17 series in 2025, this could be the year for Apple to bring its boldest "Pro Max" model to the table — the kind of iPhone 16 upgrade that stands tall above its siblings, both figuratively and literally. If you have been holding out for the iPhone 16 Pro Max, here are five of the biggest changes rumored to be coming...
iOS 17

Apple Releases iOS 17.5.1 With Fix for Reappearing Photos Bug

Monday May 20, 2024 10:11 am PDT by
Apple today released iOS 17.5.1 and iPadOS 17.5.1, minor updates to the iOS 17 and iPadOS 17 operating system updates that came out last September. The 17.5.1 updates come a week after the launch of iOS 17.5 and iPadOS 17.5. iOS 17.5.1 and iPadOS 17.5.1 can be downloaded on eligible iPhones and iPads over-the-air by going to Settings > General > Software Update. According to Apple's...
maxresdefault

iPhone SE 4 With Face ID Said to Be Priced Below $500

Monday May 20, 2024 3:43 am PDT by
Apple is targeting a sub-$500 starting price for its upcoming fourth-generation iPhone SE model despite a raft of rumored upgrades coming to the more affordable device. According to leaker Revegnus on X, the U.S. launch price of the fourth-generation iPhone SE will either remain at the same $429 starting price as the current model, or will see an increase of around 10%. Either way, Apple's...
microsoft surface pro qualcomm

Microsoft Says New Surface Pro is Faster Than 15" M3 MacBook Air

Monday May 20, 2024 3:19 pm PDT by
Microsoft is going all in on AI, today introducing a series of Copilot+ PCs that have AI-focused hardware. The new Surface Pro is one of the first Copilot+ PCs, equipped with Qualcomm's Arm-based Snapdragon X Elite processor. Microsoft is already pitting the Surface Pro against Apple's M3 MacBook Air, and in marketing materials, claims that the Surface Pro has superior processing power and...
iPhone 15 Pro Cameras

iPhone 16 Pro Max to Feature New 48MP Wide and Ultra Wide Cameras

Tuesday May 21, 2024 3:36 am PDT by
Apple's iPhone 16 Pro Max will boast a bigger main camera sensor while both iPhone 16 Pro models will feature a 48-megapixel Ultra Wide camera for the first time, claims a rumor coming out of Asia. According to Weibo user OvO Baby Sauce OvO, the main camera of the iPhone 16 Pro Max will be based on an advanced custom 48-megapixel Sony IMX903 sensor. In contrast, the iPhone 16 Pro will use...

Top Rated Comments

69Mustang Avatar
55 months ago

Who is dumb enough to go to a third party website and download a profile, then, after seeing the warning iOS throws up, installing it anyway?
Up to 35 million people apparently. :D ;)
Score: 12 Votes (Like | Disagree)
scottishwildcat Avatar
55 months ago

Apple can’t review profiles that users choose to download from a third party website.
They can’t, but it’s hard to believe that when reviewing any app whose purpose is to block or redirect your internet traffic, a human doesn’t at least run through the setup process once to see if anything looks fishy.
Score: 5 Votes (Like | Disagree)
cmaier Avatar
55 months ago
Who is dumb enough to go to a third party website and download a profile, then, after seeing the warning iOS throws up, installing it anyway?
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)
cmaier Avatar
55 months ago

Apple once again let's something pass into the Apps store and then after it's been there for a long time and collected tons of user data removes it from the App Store. haha
Apple can’t review profiles that users choose to download from a third party website.
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)
nylonsteel Avatar
55 months ago
analytics - the new big brorther
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)
WannaGoMac Avatar
55 months ago
This is why I’ve started to delete many apps and use the mobile web site. At least with web site I can use blockers
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)